Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Alberta to charge deposit on milk jugs

The Alberta government announced today that they will begin to charge a 25 cent refundable deposit on all milk containers starting June 1, 2009.

The goal is to increase the level of recycled beverage containers milk jugs to 85% from the current levels of 75%.  Of course, the current 75% recycle rate has been achieved through regular recycling practices (blue bins, community recycle centres, etc.) and not through deposits.

So, the obvious question should be, is an 85% recycle rate a reasonable expectation for milk jugs that could not be achieved through other non-financial incentive means?

Reasonable Expectation?

We already have a test-case with other deposit-required beverage containers.  So, what percentage of pop, beer and other beverage containers that have a deposit are currently returned for recycling? 

According to the 2007 Annual report of the Beverage Container Management Board, only 76% are returned currently, and that is up from last year's 74%.

So without charging a 25 cent deposit on milk (a staple in many family diets) 75% of milk jugs are recycled.  With a deposit beer, pop and other containers only achieve a 76% recycle rate.

Families all across Alberta are now going to have to shell out an additional 25 cents every time they buy milk and then haul their milk jugs along with them to the bottle depot to get it back for a measly 1% jump in recycling.

But, to be fair, historical levels of recycling of deposit-based beverage containers has been 80%, and deposit levels haven't increased in 20 years.  So, it's likely those percentages might jump. 

Achieved without a deposit?

The City of Calgary is about to launch it's curbside recycling program, meaning that a full 1/3 of Alberta's population will now have easier access to recycling programs.  Moreover, Strathcona County, the province's fifth largest municipality just enhanced their curbside recycling program. So it's very likely that the 63%75% recycle rate would be increasing anyway, without a deposit. 

But I guess I should look at the bright side, at least you get your money back eventually, unlike with the electronics recycling or tire recycling taxes...

UPDATE & CORRECTION: As pointed out in the comments, I apparently mis-read the government news release, and the 75% figure is not for milk jugs, it's for all deposit-based beverage containers.

The current level of 4L milk jug recycling is 63%.  Incorrect statements above have been stroked-out.

However, I still stand by my original premise that an 85% target is likely too high, 75-80% is more likely, and the 63% current level would have increased with Alberta's 1st and 5th largest municipalities introducing curb-side recycling programs.


enthrall said...

Hey, Scott - first point: The Beverage Board's 76% figure is actually for all deposit-based recyclables. The rate of return with the Alberta Dairy Council's program is just over 63% for 4L containers.

Granted, the program has only been running for 8 years instead of more than 40 and the money goes into communities instead of deposited and (mostly) returned to customers. ("Where do the unreclaimed deposits go?" you may ask.)

Second point: It isn't going to be a 25 cent increase. Consider the hidden BCMB handling fees and the tendency to tack on additional price increases whenever a big announcement is made.

Christopher Thrall

S said...

Hi Christopher,

Thanks for the comment. The 75% number for current level of recycling of milk containers is from the Government of Alberta news release. That release is linked to in the original post.

I never suggested it will be a 25 cent increase, it will be a deposit charge that some people will have a tougher time paying. This is a point that the Dairy Council has made too.

From their website:
5. Why don't you just put the milk containers into the deposit program?
Consumer surveys indicate that Albertans consider milk an essential food, and are concerned about keeping it affordable for consumers. The most cost-effective way to recycle milk containers is through a voluntary program. The deposit/refund system is a higher-cost system, which would result in consumers paying higher prices for milk. Depending on the container, the ecology fees charged under a deposit program could amount to more than the 1 or 2 cents currently being paid under the voluntary plastic milk jug recycling program, in addition to the deposit itself.

Scott Hennig said...

My apologies, upon reading the news release for the tenth time, I realized that the 75% number is the same as the 76% number, and it does not include milk containers.

Your 63% number is correct.

However, I'm still not convinced that it won't continue to rise without deposits.

I've corrected the original post.

impohst3r said...

So what can we do about it? Is there any way we can avoid paying the deposit in the first place? It really sucks to have to make special trips to the recycling depot now that we must pay for mandatory curbside recycling in Calgary! and it looks like our government isn't smarter than 5th graders (

Wayne Parker said...

Thanks for the post! It helped a lot. I am doing research for some things in shipping containers edmonton

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